Monday, July 12, 2021

How to avoid wax moth damage in your honey supers - using drone comb!

Lets just start with the benefits of using drone comb within your honey supers:





- Drone comb stores more honey per frame!
- No storage requirements, avoid bees getting to them, that's all there is to it really.
- Frames can be extracted at higher speeds and empty way faster!
- Less honey stuck in frames after extracting!
- No pollen is being stored in drone comb frames!
- No pollen stored in drone comb = no wax moth damage of those super frames!
- Bees seem to be very happy to draw out drone comb.


(The assumption is that you use a queen excluder to avoid any drones / pupa off being raised within the comb, hence with absence of pollen being stored in drone comb and no brood being raised giving the wax moth literally close to no food at all to thrive on. You will still notice minimal wax moth damage, however wax moth starve to death prior causing significant damage. The hole idea of using this simple technique came to us once we initially observed over the years, that bees had never stored pollen in drone comb regardless of how heavy the pollen flow was)


I've never seen a beekeeper appreciate the wax moth's work:

Most beekeepers really seem to have a dislike for wax moth, that is probably a fair statement in "general".

Below you can see wax moth damage on a brood frame on a died out colony.


Most beekeepers have issues storing their honey supers over the winter period, just to find them destroyed by wax moth, if no special treatment had been done to them. And by treatment I mean either having frozen the comb for 24h and then sealed up so wax moth can't enter the comb anymore. Alternatively one can cover them in wood ash and or spray them with BT, which I would not recommend, however I have seen applications of this in the past.


The easiest way to store a few frames is to build a bee tight space out in the open with a roof, and hang up your frames out in the draft nicely spaced, which will probably do for most amateur beekeepers, as you most likely only hold a few boxes worth of frames over winter.

 

However when you are semi-commercial or running as large scale commercial beekeeper, storing a few 1000+ frames in a special setup is probably not a viable option due to all the labor involved.
Hence a lot of commercial beekeepers lock up their honey supers in either sea containers or other air tight structures and gas them, essentially killing all wax moth and developing larva, while keeping the frames in the air tight space for a few days, then maintain keeping them locked up, until being re-used again. However, please note that prior entering the air-tight container to air out the enclosed space for at least a few days to ensure it is safe to enter and all gases have cleared out of the space.

Easy potential solution:

We are using drone comb with a cell diameter of 7.2mm. We had to adopt a color code in order to better operationally differentiate between regular 4.9mm worker bee comb (white top bars) and the larger 7.2mm drone comb size (red top bars) in the field.




However if you either don't want to gas all your frames, and or don't want to do all this effort, then I would recommend using drone comb in your honey supers and using queen bee excluders!

Basically you just have to ensure the queen never lays an egg into those drone comb frames and they will never be destroyed by wax moth. Its fairly simple to say, if no bee ever developed in a comb, then the wax moth will rather have a hard time trying to develop. We noticed during Redgum flows, which yield very massive pollen flows, that we never seen a single drone comb cell filled with pollen, not a single time!

Hence the absence of pollen and layers of previous developing bees cause the wax moth larva to starve to death, prior causing any real damage to the drawn drone comb frames.

We now simply just store the boxes in our shed, with no additional effort required once the bees previously cleaned out the supers. And in spring we take them out just as new!


This is how we store our drone comb supers. Absolutely no super storage requirements what so ever. Just pop them in the shed, forget about them for a few month, and take them back out. That's it!

Zero wax moth treatment required!!


I have not read that too often before, someone claiming to have practically no wax moth damage! Below you can see how the frames look like after 2-3 month of being in the shed as stored above. On the left you can see the single frame which had suffered a tiny fraction of wax moth damage, and this frame has been by far the worst of all of them!

 

Mice however like to find a nice warm and dry spot to set up their camp, so you will have to put up some mouse bait to avoid having rather mouse damage than wax moth damage!


The operational catch to the solution:

There is a catch however, for starters, many beekeepers probably have not adopted this style of management yet. And second, in high numbers of boxes and frames, there is the issue of pulling either capped brood or capped honey frames over the excluders too. As the commercial beekeeper you will always have to bring additional foundations or sticky frames for standard brood size with you to fill up, what ever frame you had to move over the excluder, as you should not place some of the drone combs under your excluder to avoid having millions of drones chomping through your honey, and having your previously clean drone comb "contaminated" by a larva, and therefore now being susceptible to wax moth damage.


So as you can see, when you grow in size, this is not perfect, but the benefits can't be ignored too!


Happy beekeeping!

Regards,

Colin


Growing Paulownia fortunei - the fastest growing tree for shade and honey!

This blog post will be probably a long term / ongoing entry and will be all about growing Paulownia fortunei trees from the day we planted until the day we start to appreciate their shade and honey!

It is said to be the fastest growing tree on earth, reaching a height of 12m within 8 years! However the reason why we chose growing it was for shade as well as just trying to grow anything really in very sandy soil. Pauwlownia is said to survive sandy soil, this is something we have heaps off. Also the tree is said to survive our summer heat, another big contributor in the choice.

Depending on stocking rates I have read that Pauwlonia trees can yield up to 1.3 tons of honey per acre, hence for us as beekeeper this seems to be an interesting tree also, apart of the fact that you can also sell the trees and harvest their wood.

Delivery WA Australia (July)

We had delivered to our door by Small Tree Farm located in Balingup WA and you will have to pre-order your trees up to a year in advance. Then around June / July / August time frame you can expect your delivery of roughly 3m long bare rooted trees as shown below.




Soil preparation:

This is not a recommendation, rather just explaining on what we have done, as I am no expert on growing Pauwlonia trees yet. Keep in mind, on those pictures the trees had still been alive.
But what was recommended to me was to dig at least 40cm deep and about 50cm wide and refill with the soil removed. We have however not followed that just as instructed and thought it would be a good idea to mix  a batch of 50% of compost with 50% of charcoal and then blend the removed sand 50% / 50% with above charcoal/compost mix. Additionally we have purchased "Ollas" which are clay pots storing around 3 liters of water and dug them into the same hole. They can be filled with water and weep through allowing the soil to remain moist underground around the root ball of the tree. We intend to place float valves into those Ollas to maintain a constant moist soil around the root systems of the tree.

  




Once we had the trees and Ollas covered we added 5cm worth of wood chips / mulch over the top to maintain a better constant temperature around the tree as well as to reduce the amount of water evaporation around the base. I would highly recommend reading Peter Andrews book Beyond the Brink when trying to grow stuff in Australian climates. (status 12.7.2021)


 


Paulownia fortunei  will start to produce leaves the size of elephant ears, so we are looking forward to seeing them as soon as the tree comes out of dormancy.

So lets follow them on how they grow:


8.August 2021

  

29.August 2021:

  
 



So now its time to just sit back and relax...

Regards,

Colin


Friday, July 9, 2021

How to paint your bee boxes on the cheap using quality paint

Did someone say cheap paint ?

Assuming you need to paint a few hundred bee boxes every so often while either expanding or fixing up your existing bee boxes, then paint can become a fairly expensive item on the list.


However there may be a solution, to lowering your paint expenses, this as most hardware stores may have a paint section, and especially in spring we notice that in our local hardware store (Bunnings) they happen to have loads of miss-tinted paint usually sold at a fraction of its original price. Some paint may have already been opened and partially used. In other cases the bucket may be damaged etc. But you still have a good a mount of paint for a fairly good price.








Should you be using NANO-Paint for bee hives?

On another note, when speaking of paint we found the following paint after watching two beekeepers operating in Serbia using ECOTHERM paint. The paint is said to be able to generate 6cm worth of polystyrene like insulation with coat as little as 1 mm of the special paint. Within our operation we use polystyrene boxes hence we don't require this special paint, however in an operation utilizing wooden boxes I could imagine quite a few thermal benefits of using this product.

URL to the paint found here:   https://ecotherm.com/en/home/

Youtube link where Ecotherm is used


One interesting thing we found was their experiment showing one side of a frying pan being covered with the paint while the other half is not. Then the guys put an egg into the pan, while the one side nicely fry's the egg, the other remains cold and uncooked.

This has absolutely nothing to do with beekeeping, just should illustrate the powers of this magic paint. As said we have not yet tested this paint and just have conducted some "Youtube research".

Happy painting!

Regards,

Colin


Saturday, July 3, 2021

How to better organize your queen bee grafting frames / queen rearing operation

In this article we will explain how we organize and setup our own queen rearing method, adding a few extra tips and tricks to keep the operation well organized. This blog post is probably directed at more advanced beekeepers running 20-50 hives wanting to expand, or any semi-commercial or commercial beekeeper.

One can raise queen bees in a bunch of different methods, such as walk away splits starting their emergency protocols, or saturation and triggering pre-swarming behaviors. One can use the push in hive tool trick on some 1-2 day old larva on existing brood comb, or go to the stage where one grafts young larva into separate cups called grafting, which we show below.

To very briefly touch the basics on the bee cycle, we are interested in grafting larva on day 4 of the worker bee cycle, meaning the egg has been in the cell for 3 days, and on the day the larva hatches is the day we intend to move / graft that larva into a special cell cup. In our case we utilize the NICOT queen rearing system. Well at least we use some part of it, as we keep things pretty traditional.

Basically we put 2x 14x grafts on 1 bar of a WSP frame and depending colony strength and saturation we place 1x or 2x frames into the cell starter colony.



If you observe very carefully on the above graft frame you may notice the green color within the grafts, this had been an experiment to better identify the amount of royal jelly being stored in the queen cups, without needing to open a few cells, thereby killing some queens in process to validate the feeding quality of the queens.
Basically we added a very saturated food dye into some sugar water, placed on the cell starter, which yielded blue / green royal jelly, which is quite easy to be see against the light and could help checking grafts. And no, the queen does not turn blue!

When looking at our graft frames, we generally have a color coding of our frames in general, such as:

White       standard brood comb
Green       Drone comb used in the brood chamber (can incur wax moth damage)
Pink/Red  Drone comb, which never hold brood, located over excluder (no wax moth damage)
Blue/Red  queen grafting frames

However on our Red/Blue graft frames we recently have added an extra piece, which is a strip of whiteboard.
usually people tend to write the dates of the day the graft bar has been inserted on to the frame. Assuming you run 10-20 cell builders, things can get a little interesting in terms of all the scribbles on the frames and trying to find space to scribble the new date on the frame. Hence we needed something which works a little better for us. 

Mini whiteboards for your graft frames:




Using whiteboard markers and the whiteboard strips stuck on those blue/red graft frames we can easily keep track of the graft dates, DNA source and also if we had bar merges etc, where you combine graft bars to free up unsuccessful graft bars, while being able to easily keep track of who is who, and which grafts hatches by which date. Additionally we usually stick an entire whiteboard on the top of the lid of the cell starters.
With Australian climate and UV exposure the paint of the whiteboard markers usually hold just long enough for the 2 weeks needed until they start to fade or being washed away, hence work nicely.

Construction explained:

Basically get the cheapest small whiteboard from your office supply shop in your area or online. In our case we went to OfficeWorks and picked up 20-30x on a special! :)

  

Measure your strips based on your frame bar size and start chopping the boards into strips. We only cut original white boards in half, as it gets a little scary once going closer to the bench saw blade. Also make sure you wear the appropriate PPE's while doing this task, as the whiteboard spray sharp bits and pieces all over.



Eventually you end up with the final product, ready to be used. 


Graft cup experiments

If you again observe closely, looking at the frames, you may have noticed the different cell cups being used within the NICOT system. In one case we had used the standard plastic cups right of the shelf, in other instances we started coating the yellow and brown NICO cell cups and noticed way larger cells post coating them with extra bees wax. We came to a point that the NICO cell cups in a well fed cell starter colony actually could limit the size of the queen cells, and hence started making our own colored wax cups using food dye once again. This would allow the bees to alter the base size of the queen cells as needed. Additionally the change of the wax color helped us in the grafting activities, as it just makes the graft and cup more visible.

On Top:  painted / dipped NICO yellow/brown cups
Bottom:  colored wax cups




I'll try to write up a post on how we set up our queen cell starters and finishers in a different blog post, and I if I don't forget, will link it below.

Happy grafting!


Regards,

Colin


How to get bees to draw out honey comb - painting / rolling on some extra wax

When we first started beekeeping we started with 1 hive, then expanded to 4, then to 7, to 20, up to 40, down to 30, up to 70, doubling to 140, and now running generally 250+. hives all year round.

One of the main things every beekeeper will struggle with initially is getting foundation drawn out, this in order to either expand the brood nest, and or help expanding NUCs or later down the track to create a honey harvest.

Many larger commercial beekeepers may have forgotten the initial struggles of starting up their apiary and the time and energy spent on drawing out honey comb. For instance, when placing a box of foundations on a colony over the excluder, the acceptance is fairly slow, as in comparison when you place a sticky / built comb box over the excluder the adoption is fairly fast.


For us it took quite a few years to build up foundation to drawn comb, and finally being able to bank some of drawn out sticky frames, readily to be used on the next honey flow.

Initially we had been using wooden frames with wax foundation, which we later replaced with plastic inserts due to the exponential growth as we could not keep up creating wax foundations over time.

We started dipping the plastic inserts as people tend to do it in bees wax, and probably coated them with the standard 30 grams worth of bees wax. We had pretty average results in them drawing them out. Unless you had been on a honey flow, not a lot happens, and even if you are on honey flow, they draw it out fairly average.

We then started experimenting with adding thicker layers of bees wax on the plastic foundations, and noticed a few things. When adding wopping 70-100 grams worth of bees wax to the frames, they seemed to draw them out on the slightest trickle of a honey flow. It seems like we give the bees all the supplies and they all needed to do is draw them out, "while being bored". The supplies give them a head start, however you will notice that the cells will only be drawn about half ways, enough however to get the bees to either start storing nectar in them, or have the queen bee pop an egg into those cells, and that's all that has to happen. As when the bees start utilizing those new cells, they will finish up the comb by their own demand and usage. Its however key to get the initial boost. If you really want to kick start things you can combine rolling on extra wax and giving them a little sugar water to help drawing them out. However keep in mind that you may end up contaminating your honey with this action. We nowadays simply roll our frames, and wait for the slightest honey flow to have them drawn out, which proved working nicely. My dad has become an absolute expert at this task!

   


Fresh wax works best! What we mean by that is, if you just recently (1-4 weeks) have rolled the wax coating on to your foundation frames, bees tend to work them even faster as if you give them foundation you had coated over 6-10 month ago with the same thickness. We are not quite sure why freshly rolled wax works even better, it may be the fresh smell of the new layer of wax, or the fact that it can be better worked when still freshly painted. Who knows...


The ambient / working temperature its important while working the frames. We typically try to do those tasks in the Australian winter time, as it helps with keeping layers of the cooling wax on the foundations. It seems to be the combination of the wax temperature, as well as the ambient temperature which makes the perfect coat. Also for the first few rolls of a a freshly dipped roller you will have to be gentle, and apply least amount of pressure on the foundation when rolling. Only when you get to the last drops of wax soaked within the roller you should apply pressure to the foundation to get the best coverage, slightly drawing out the comb, without just filling it comb with wax puddles.
Note, that in the picture our heated bees wax hardly has any bubbles, that's what the temperature should be like, to avoid it to be to runny and too hot. If your ambient temperature ins spring or summer is too hot, just use a fan to cool down the foundations as you paint them, as it helps with having the bees wax stick better to the frames while cooling down faster.


A safety warning:

Never walk away from the burning wax stove and or let the bees wax get too hot, as it will ignite if it reaches the bees wax flash point temperature or if it boils and starts spilling onto your burning stove the spillage may catch on fire. There is only one solution if the wax has gotten to hot, which is to take the heat source away. Hence, watch your melting bees wax at all times. Also never try to cool it down by poring water into the boiling pan, as you will just be engulfed in a fireball, its just like tossing water into a hot frying pan, a pretty stupid and dangerous idea.

Also we would probably recommend having a fire blanked handy as well as a fire extinguisher, just in case you talked to long on the phone and forgot about the stove. Being prepared and being able to do something about the mistake is better than to watch your house burn down. We do not take any responsibility for your actions!


Worker comb vs. Drone comb

As initially said, we utilize wooden frames with plastic inserts for our brood boxes, while also rolling on extra 70-100 grams worth of bees wax on to our drone comb frames. In our honey supers we are using drone comb supplied by ECROTEC, and its the Pink/Red 7.2mm drone comb on which the bees go nuts drawing them out when applied with the extra wax!! We use WSP frame standard, however the 7.2mm done comb plastic foundation does not exist yet in that format, hence we had to saw down the full depth sizes into WSP frame format size, just in case you wonder why the bottom looks cut off on those frames. There are a few benefits in using drone comb within the supers which we will explain on a dedicated blog entry about them.

Keep in mind this is quite considerable effort involved to roll all your boxes, however it can kick start your apiary, especially if your operation is of small to medium size and you intend to grow rapidly in a very short time frame. To give you an initial guidance about the effort involved in this tasks, we have estimated that we paint a 10 frame WSP box in about 6 minutes, plus handling the box another 1-2 minutes, yielding a round trip time of all tasks involved of somewhere around 8 minutes per box. This seems a large number of hours spend in the shed, but can save your bees taking for ever to get the box built, and rather have the box built in the first flow, and filled as well! Usually you either get the honey comb built, or filled, however using this technique you tend to get both in a single flow.

  

 

 

Have fun painting bees wax on to your frames!!

Regards,

Colin


Friday, July 2, 2021

Using hive scales to track the progress of your nectar flow and or tracking pollen availability

Backyard usage of hive scales / stationary bee hives:

 We first started using WiFiHiveScales about 2 years ago and have mostly tracked stationary hives in our backyards in the city as well as out in a few rural locations to get a better understanding of what is happening.

Sometimes as a beekeeper you tend to have a feeling on what is happening in your hives, but having an independent set of hive scales helps put things into perspective and makes a good addition to the general "feel" one has what's happening.

There are multiple different products out on the market, and below we have given you an output from the wifihivescale.com product which we are using.
As long as you happen to have cell/phone signal they are a cheap and good solution to keep track of your hives. Once you go out of phone coverage you will have to divert to more expensive satellite based communications systems.



 

The commercial mobile monitoring setup:

At present we are moving away from manually loading bee hives and have started building our own pallet system for the monitoring hives. We started using 120x100 plastic pallets and have mounted the hive scales on top, added a piece of Jarrah wood on top to keep the hive level and placed 4 polystyrene hives on top.
We will be testing this palatalized hive scale setup this year in a canola field on which we are building up our colonies for the coming spring flow around the New Norcia area in WA Australia. 


 

 

Instead of utilizing the scales by joining an existing WiFi network such as our home network or utilizing our shed's Telstra dongle the pallet is now using the GSM variant of the WiFiHiveScales using a cheap ALDI pre-paid card. Keep in mind we can only operate those scales in areas where there is GSM reception, luckily our Canola spot is just at the edge of reception.

 

Using WiFi Hive Scales to monitor and observe pollen availability in your area

In another application we had used the same product to indicate pollen availability in our area basically inverting the usage of the hive scales. Rather than tracking the increases of weight such as in nectar flow, we had used them to track the decreases of weight / the consumption of pollen substitute provided for the bees. This dedicated use case can be found here:

Tracking pollen substitute consumption


Regardless if we are monitoring nectar flows or tracking pollen availability within our area, we found the Wifihivescales an awesome extension to our traditional beekeeping tools and experience.

Another cool thing that we found, was that you can share your data with others, by inviting them or by being invited into someones else's data sources.

Regards,

Colin


Some considerations before you are getting bees into your backyard

Where can I buy bees?   Well, right here:    Buying bees in Perth Western Australia But, before you do that, lets have a look at a few cons...